Finnish company raising funds for astronaut training competition

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This story was updated Feb. 3 to reflect new fundraising figures.

SAN FRANCISCO — Cohu Experience, a Finnish startup aimed at encouraging public participation in the burgeoning commercial space industry, has raised more than 2.2 million Euros in a crowdfunding campaign launched Feb. 2 for the Space Nation Astronaut Training Program, including one million Euros pledged in the first 43 minutes for the smartphones application for citizen astronauts.

Prior to the crowdfunding campaign, the group raised 1.7 million Euros from investors in Finland, Estonia, Germany and the US, said Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola, Cohu Experience co-founder and chief executive.

Instead of spending years earning advanced degrees in science or engineering, people who download the Space Nation Astronaut Program app that Cohu Experience plans to roll out this fall can test their skill with a variety of mental, social and physical challenges. The top 100 competitors, in addition to 30 people selected by corporate partners and sponsors, will be invited to a two-week astronaut training boot camp in early 2018.

The boot camp is designed to whittle down the field from 130 people to 12, who then qualify for 12 weeks of intensive astronaut training. At the end of that training, one citizen astronaut will win a commercial suborbital flight in 2018. In later years, the company plans to select multiple astronauts and to send them to low Earth orbit and beyond, Vähä-Jaakkola said.

“We want it to be inclusive so anyone in the world can be a part. We want to find those Slumdog astronauts,” Vähä-Jaakkola said, referring to the 2008 British film Slumdog Millionaire in which an Indian orphan competes for $1 million.

If Space Nation sounds like it’s made for reality television, it is. “We are going to film it and distribute through mobile websites, social media and television,” said Vähä-Jaakkola.

The brainchild of Vähä-Jaakkola, Cohu Experience co-founder and chief executive, and Mazdak Nassir, the firm’s chief creative officer and co-founder, Space Nation is backed by several companies. They include Axiom Space, the Houston-based company raising money to build a private space station; Edge of Space, a startup based in Houston and Denver aimed at connecting schools and businesses with affordable launch opportunities; and Fun Academy, a Finnish education company.

Cohu Experience has not announced the location of the Space Nation Astronaut Experience boot camp. One possibility is Houston since Axiom Space is responsible for the project’s astronaut training and flight opportunities. Axiom’s chairman, Kam Ghaffarian, is also president and chief executive of Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, the company that trains NASA astronauts under a nine-year contract awarded in 2014.

In a bid to raise six million euros, Cohu Experience is funding on the crowdfunding site www.around.fi. If it reaches that target, the Finnish Innovation Fund will provide another three million euros, Vähä-Jaakkola said.